Release Date: Feb 5, 2013
Record label: ATO
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
This album is the official solo debut of a rock star who really doesn't need to make solo records. The singer-guitarist and main songwriter of My Morning Jacket, Jim James leads one of the most successful and consistently exciting bands in modern rock, a Southern Led Zeppelin with the futurist nerve of Radiohead. James has produced or co-produced most of his group's records while racking up sublime collaborations on the side, including the superband Monsters of Folk and vocal work with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Taken as a whole, Regions of Light and Sound of God feels almost otherworldly, like James stepped out of space and time for a flash, then returned bearing songs inspired by a place that only he could see. Captivating to its core, it will undoubtedly soundtrack countless mushroom-fueled spirit quests and soul-searching walkabouts for light years to come. .
Imagine you’re the frontman for a successful rock band. Over the course of your career, you’ve somehow managed to acquire not only indie credibility but a fan base sizable enough to pack arenas. You eventually decide to branch out and form new groups with talented peers. Maybe you decide to contribute to a film soundtrack or even accept a cameo in said film.
There have been few times, in my 16 years living and moving about overseas, that I have truly wished I could move ‘home’. Those times are fleeting, but usually come in times of family emergency, insane temperatures on either end of zero, or when I happen to look at tour schedules for my favorite bands. These are the times I desperately wish I could live in places like Brooklyn, Portland, Chicago, Seattle – or even Milwaukee – a place I thought for years was just the name of a bad beer.
Those suspicious of pretention would do well to disregard the title of this debut solo album by Jim James and feel instead the southern orchestral funk of its groove. It'll be worth it. James remains the leader of My Morning Jacket, arguably one of the more expansive Americana acts of the past decade, and this record shares DNA with the last Jacket offering, while shimmying into more velvety, penumbral territory.
For a guy defined by his band's take on "roots" music, Jim James' head has always been in the clouds. For the first few My Morning Jacket albums, he often recorded his vocals in an abandoned Kentucky grain silo, one of the few places that could give him the otherworldly reverb he desired. On any number of great My Morning Jacket songs-- "Gideon", "The Way That He Sings", "Circuital", "Golden"-- there's that moment when James cuts loose the sandbags and lets his voice pull the songs heavenward.
With a title like Region of Light and Sound of God, you can tell that the debut solo album from My Morning Jacket’s perpetual maximalist Jim James hasn’t narrowed his sights. The album, self-produced and performed, sounds much like its cover looks – a ruggedly dapper man, paling in the wake of a pulsating world of neon that he doesn’t seem to understand. It’s that left hand that’s the clincher – is it stroking his beard in confusion, or lighting up a cigarette and taking it all in? Either way, from the artwork alone, it’s easy to tell that James is going to be tackling some Big Issues here.
God, nature, and the meaning of life. What does it all mean? Jim James wants to know. Such an existential line of questioning doesn’t easily lend itself to clean answers or firm interpretation, but that doesn’t keep James from trying to work it all out. As such, the My Morning Jacket frontman’s solo debut, Regions of Light and Sound of God, is a hefty, meditative musical excursion rooted in a taster’s choice of musical styles, including folk, pop, soul, funk, chamber pop, and space rock, to name but a few.
What’s fascinating about outtakes, live recordings, B-sides, demos, collabs, movie soundtracks, side projects, solo albums, and other material deemed somehow unworthy or too “different” to have placed on a “proper” album release is that they can provide a glimpse into the trials and errors, the experimentations, and the what-ifs of a band’s musical trajectory. And, by their very incomplete nature, they can also make up a kind of unofficial history, perhaps not unlike those “genealogical investigations” that Foucault (by way of Nietzsche) proposed would render for us a more accurate, meaningful, or substantial picture of what had transpired, as remedy to an outmoded and defunct traditional history, which in this case depended upon “the event” or “the archive” to be understood as the album or an official discography. Indeed, there’s no way that Regions of Light and Sound of God, the debut solo effort from Jim James, the front man of one of the biggest, last-standing “indie rock” bands of the last 10 years or so, could be received without considering My Morning Jacket’s discography, which, given their status, has most likely been relatively scrutinized (such could be the case with any longtime fan hearing it the first time).
At first glance, a solo album from My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James inspired by a 1929 proto-graphic novel sounds drier than a mouthful of sand. In practice, however, this lone venture from the man formerly known as Yim Yames (this is not a joke) is a low-key treat. Taking Lynd Ward’s ‘novel in woodcuts’ God’s Man as influence, the album plays like a hazy dream of what first made My Morning Jacket great.
In 2008, during a My Morning Jacket concert, frontman Jim James fell from the stage and was injured badly enough to spend three weeks recuperating. During that time, artist Gary Burden dropped by and gave him a copy of Lynd Ward's God's Man, a graphic novel in woodcuts from 1929. The book moved him. The book is about a young artist who seeks redemption while struggling with personal demons.
Jim James's Regions of Light and Sound of God is full of trancey reverb and lyrics that fixate on various forms of devotion. Half the guitars and all the voice of My Morning Jacket, James has crafted an album that partakes in MMJ's operatic strokes and cranked-up bass, but it's a much sparser affair that fronts atmosphere ahead of lyrics—one reason, perhaps, why James delivers his lines with more than his usual instinct for rhythmic surprise. The album is a loose, meditative song cycle about regret, religion, and romance.
If you were going to choose one word to describe Jim James, then it’d have to be restless. Over the 15 years that he’s been in the public consciousness as the main creative force behind My Morning Jacket, he has dabbled in all manner of different genres. MMJ started off as sparse alt-country balladeers before embracing anthemic Southern rock, jittery loops and slightly misguided funk, replacing half the band in the process.
The debut full-length from the lead singer of My Morning Jacket has a surprisingly light touch. Rather than trying to sound like a full band all on his own, James keeps things pretty simple. Not that things feel slight. "Know 'Til Now" excels with a minimal beat and electronic touches by putting James' supple voice at the forefront, something that would have been unimaginable over a decade ago, when My Morning Jacket first made a name for themselves with their guitar-led attack and vocals washed in reverb and effects.
Jim James is the singer for My Morning Jacket. He does a good part of the band’s guitar work, and writes pretty much all the songs. He also is the band’s in-house producer. So why the need, after nearly 15 years, for a solo album, when My Morning Jacket are still a going concern? Isn’t MMJ pretty much James’ show, anyway? The answer must be in the process.
Jim JamesRegions of Light and Sound of God(ATO)Rating: 4 stars (out of 5) Jim James has always written spiritual songs. Not preachy, not specific to a particular faith, but as deeply spiritual as anything else in modern rock – one man’s continuous, musically thrilling pursuit of pure love and enlightenment. Fronting My Morning Jacket’s southern-tinged psych-rock, James often sings about God: one that’s malleable and transient, slightly out of reach – but still worth praising, whatever it is.
A soulful, self-contained delight of a solo album. James Skinner 2013 As the frontman of psych-rock visionaries My Morning Jacket and one quarter of supergroup Monsters of Folk, Kentucky musician Jim James is nothing if not versatile. His principal group are given to dabbling in more genres over the course of one album than many bands might dare tackle in an entire career, while his sweet, heartfelt tribute to George Harrison – released under the name Yim Yames in 2009 – demonstrated a talent and sensibility that could flourish in any setting.
Jim James' solo bow, 2009's EP of George Harrison covers under the moniker Yim Yames, excavated the Kentucky songwriter's spiritual musing in a way unexplored with My Morning Jacket. His first proper solo LP builds both on Harrison's introspective humility and MMJ's cosmic bombast. Regions ... searches for simplicity amid chaos, "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)" grappling with rebirth in the modern world before the album segues subtle disco-funk inflections, jazz cues, and guitar scrapes on "Know Til Now." "Dear One" and "A New Life" refine that search in relationships, yet as joyously as James expounds, the underlying want and yearning pulls the songs most effectively.